Census delay squeezes California’s redistricting


[ Article was originally posted on https://calmatters.org ]

By Dan Walters, CalMatters,

In summary

A four-month delay in releasing detailed 2020 census data puts a squeeze on redrawing the boundaries of California’s legislative and congressional districts.

The Census Bureau will release results of the 2020 census this week, setting the stage for the decennial process of redrawing California’s legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts to equalize their populations for the 2022 elections and beyond.

Thousands of cities, counties, school districts and other units of local government also will use the data to reconfigure their own districts.

However, the “legacy format” release is four-plus months later than the original date, the Census Bureau says, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the delay squeezes California’s independent redistricting commission to finalize maps in time for the 2022 election cycle.

As redistricting expert Paul Mitchell points out, “the legacy format of the census is like the IKEA furniture version of the census: The bureau will give us all the pieces, but it’s unassembled and will require a little bit of time — we estimate a few days to a whole week — before the census data will be usable for the purposes of redistricting.”

Mitchell also notes that while other states can get on with redistricting, “for California’s statewide commission, counties and cities, there is still an additional step to go.”

State prison inmates are counted in the locality where they were incarcerated on April 1, 2020, but under California law, they must be subtracted from those communities and reassigned, for redistricting purposes, to the communities where they resided at time of arrest.

That’s no small task, will take upwards of a month “and only then will California’s agencies have in hand the final dataset they can use to redraw the lines for congressional, legislative, county supervisor, and city council lines,” Mitchell says.

Originally, the commission was to have delivered its final maps by August 31, but with the four-month delay in releasing census data, the state Supreme Court advanced that deadline by four months to December 31, which created a small conflict with the 2022 election calendar. Filing by candidates for state offices is, under current law, scheduled to open on December 16.

The conflict will become a major one if the Supreme Court agrees to another two-week delay to January 14 that the commission is seeking.

“We’re tasked with getting meaningful public input” on the maps, commission chairman Russell Yee said. “Because of the census delay, the whole public comment period on draft maps gets shifted to the holidays.”

Were the Supreme Court to approve the shift, the Legislature would probably be forced to alter the election calendar accordingly. Obviously, candidates can’t seek offices if they don’t know the parameters of their districts.

As deadlines and candidate filing periods move forward, if they do, they squeeze the campaign period for the June 7 primary election that will set the stage for the November 8 general election.

Meanwhile, the compressed period for the redistricting commission to do its work carries its own uncertainties. For example, the state will have one less congressional seat, thanks to its very slow population growth during the last decade, so there will be more movement than usual in the boundaries of the 52 remaining districts.

As commission members go through the districts one by one — and even block by block — they will be under increasing pressure to preserve what are called “communities of interest” due to heightened sensitivity about racial, ethnic, economic and gender disparities.

Finally, political conflicts these days frequently wind up in court. Those who believe the
new maps disadvantage them will not hesitate to seek redress in the courts — a factor that could add even more hitches in the electoral system.

SOURCE: https://calmatters.org/commentary/2021/08/census-delay-squeezes-californias-redistricting/

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